It took 90 games over the course of three long, frustrating years, but this season, Brandi Brown — senior forward for the women’s basketball team — is finally experiencing success.
It required losing 74 games and winning just 16 since 2009, but for the first time since arriving in Youngstown from her hometown of Pomona, Calif., “success” is in Brown’s vocabulary.
And it’s not just individual success. She’s had plenty of that.
With the Penguins holding a record of 17-6, including 7-3 in the Horizon League, earning them second place, Brown has found team success. Considering her tumultuous first three seasons at Youngstown State University, she couldn’t be happier.
“The success has been rewarding so far,” Brown said. “But I know that I’m not going to be satisfied completely until all of our goals and winning more games and just winning in general has been done.”
‘I can make it through anything’
If the best lessons are learned through failure, then Brown’s freshman season provided her with an abundance of knowledge.
Under former head coach Cindy Martin, the YSU women’s basketball team failed miserably in its 2009-2010 season. The Penguins lost every game.
They finished 0-30.
“Going through my first year and not winning a game, I feel if I can make it through that, I can make it through anything,” Brown said.
It wasn’t a lost season for Brown, though. She started every game, averaging 11.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. She was also named to the HL All-Newcomer Team.
Furthermore, Brown learned some valuable lessons.
“I think I learned how to endure, how to persevere. I learned what it really takes to want something, to want to turn it around and want to change it,” she said. “There’s going to be days where you don’t feel like working hard. But I think those days when you don’t want to work hard and you go out there and you do it, those are the days when you learn the most.”
‘Me? A shooter?’
While Brown learned a lot about herself during the defeating season, the YSU athletics department learned that it needed a head coaching change. The department found Bob Boldon to take the reins of a winless team that needed rebuilt — a daunting task. However, Boldon said he knew he’d found a centerpiece in Brown.
“Brandi was a great building block to be able to build around as we got the program to where it is today,” Boldon said.
But he didn’t coddle his star player. Instead, he pushed her abilities and asked her to “transform” her game.
“We asked a lot of Brandi,” Boldon said. “We asked her to go from being strictly a low post player to a perimeter player, to become a more versatile player.”
She did just that, and it was especially evident in the season opener of Brown’s sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh. A minute into the game, Brown knocked down her first 3-pointer. She went on to hit three more and finished with 20 points. “Their coach was on the bench yelling out, ‘Shooter! Shooter!’” Brown recalled. “And I was like ‘Me? A shooter?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Brown earned Second-Team All-HL honors that season, averaging 19.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. The Penguins went 6-24. The following season, YSU improved again under Boldon, finishing 10-20. For her junior season, Brown once again earned Second-Team All-HL honors.
“Coach Boldon’s been awesome,” Brown said. “He doesn’t want me to settle individually. He wants me to be the best that I can be. I’m really happy for that, and I’m thankful that he’s my coach now.”
‘She’s the face of this program’
As thankful as Brown is to have Boldon, the rest of the Penguins are equally appreciative to have Brown.
“She’s the leader on the team. I don’t know what the heck we would do without her some games,” said junior guard Liz Hornberger. “She scores the points, does the rebounding, picks people up and gets in people’s faces when they need to hear it.
She’s the face of this program and the whole turnaround.” Boldon agreed.
“What she’s meant to us in the present time is she’s been a big part of turning the program around,” he said. “She’ll be the one player that went from one of the worst teams to potentially one of the best teams in the Horizon League. And that says a lot about her character and her ability to continue to work.”
In addition to her on-court accolades, Brown, a communication studies major, twice earned Academic All-HL honors. On Feb. 1, she was named to the 2012-2013 Capital One Academic All-District Women’s Basketball Team for her performance on and off the court.
“She contributes so much on the court, but off the court, [she’s] one of the first girls I would go to if anything became wrong,” Hornberger said. “[She] just has a really different and positive outlook on life. I think in college you need someone who’s responsible and mature, and it’s very hard to come by. But Brandi always offers that perspective to me.”
When speaking about her good friend, the respect and appreciation Hornberger has for Brown is obvious. For this reason, Hornberger admitted her concern for the future.
“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do without the girl next year,” she said.
‘One of the greatest players ever’
Although Brown knows that her playing days at YSU are coming to an end, she is focused on the present. She acknowledged the possibility of continuing to play after graduation — whether in the WNBA or overseas — but admitted that she has “no clue what is after this point.”
“Every time someone asks me, I make up a different story,” she said. “So, we’ll just see what happens.”
However, Boldon discussed the legacy Brown will soon leave behind.
“Statistically speaking, she’ll go down as one of the greatest players ever [at YSU],” he said. “She allowed us to be in a lot of games that maybe we shouldn’t have been in. Now, [she’s] allowing us to win a lot of games. … Because of her success, we’ve been able to recruit better players. … The likelihood of us replacing her with an individual, statistically, is almost nonexistent.”
This season, she’s averaging 19.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. And the way the Penguins are playing, there’s valid reason to believe that Brown might accomplish her main goal before graduation: to win the HL.
“That would be just perfect,” she said.
Whether or not that goal is met, Brown has no doubt etched a memorable career at YSU. In her four years as a Penguin, she helped turn a struggling program into a contender. Also, she has put up numbers that will likely land her in the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
“How do I want people to remember me?” Brown said. “I want them to remember that I didn’t give up, that I put my best effort forward. And I want them to remember, most importantly, that I loved my teammates.”